Fixing American: taking responsibility is the first step

My series about America has sparked much discussion, unusually intense (as it goes on the FM site).  How can we reform America?   My opinion is simple (perhaps simplistic):

  1. We are in this together.  Reality/nature/God enforces collectively responsibility.
  2. Individually we are weak.  Collectively we are strong.
  3. Our reluctance to take personal responsibility for the Republic is our greatest problem.  Ingenuity at producing excuses does not substitute for taking action.
  4. What are the odds of success at fixing American?  It does not matter; nobody cares (not our forefathers, not our descendants).

Judging from the comments, this is a minority view.  All of the comments disagree, most suggesting that passivity or outright revolt are our only effective options.  This is the 2nd of 3 posts showing these comments.

  1. The problems
  2. Our responsibility for both the problems and fixing them
  3. Solutions
  4. Conclusions

Please post your views — and especially any evidence or citations supporting your view.  As always, comments should be brief, topical, and civil.  My posts about America are listed at the end.

Our responsibility for both the problems and fixing them

Judasnoose, 1 March 2008

“In a democratic republic we are responsible for the actions of our government. Neither future historians nor our descendants will care for our excuses.”

Fabius, you have an over-developed sense of responsibility. The USA is not actually democratic. The votes don’t get counted honestly. Broadening the Inquiry into New Hampshire, Black Box Voting (28 February 2008).
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Fabius Maximus replies: I am sure you do not believe this is a new phenomenon. Voting fraud was a major support for metro political machines in the 19th and 20th centuries. What’s missing is evidence about the size of modern voting fraud (that it exists does not mean that it is determinative). And it is easily prevented if enough people care. If we depend on Mommy to keep everything neat and tidy, then we cannot be a democracy because we are not citizens.

Judasnoose, 28 April 2008

“We elect our representatives, nor have their been widespread protests against the post-WWII expansion of the military-industrial complex. Nor can we complain that we have not been told. President Eisenhower’s warning was clear, and there have been countless stories in the mainstream media about this over the past few decades.
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If our response to these things is to blame others instead of our own fecklessness, then perhaps we are not capable of self-government.”

I don’t think you’re being fair to the American people, Fabius. Americans have voted, protested, written, and used every peaceful means to try to reform their government. They have not been entirely feckless and passive. They appear to have been outmaneuvered by those in power — that doesn’t mean they just sat around doing nothing.
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Also, American voters do not elect their representatives. Diebold does, and exit polls make this abundantly obvious.

To be outmaneuvered by an oppresser is not the same thing as deserving to be oppressed.
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Fabius Maximus replies: I believe this is overstated.

“Diebold does, and exit polls make this abundantly obvious.”

Diebold’s electronic voting machines are a new development — unlike the trends I discussed — and is used in only a fraction of America’s voting boths. Exit polls — like polling in general — has a long history of inaccurate results. Polls do not “prove” anything..

“Americans have voted, protested, written, and used every peaceful means to try to reform their government.”

Are you kidding? Did I miss the mass protests, the marches, the petitions, the widespread popular outrage?

Pode, 8 July 2008

Until governments can be held accountable for acting according to the wishes of the people (versus the elites), your idea of holding people accountable for the actions of government is frankly appalling.
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Fabius Maximus replies: There is no way to determine the “rightness” of these things until we speak with God (death being the price of admission). However, I find appalling the thought that we are just passengers. How wonderful we have it: fat, comfortable, with a degree of liberty unkown to almost all humanity until the modern era … and with no responsibility for our government.

Past generations suffered and died to obtain freedom and responsibility. It appears that we consider anything more than pulling a lever in a booth too great a price. This is a fine viewpoint — for serfs. And serfs we will be all to soon with such an attitude.

Ben Franklin was prescient in many things, but never more than in this incident:

“At last the closed doors of Independence Hall were opened and the delegates as they issued from the building found themselves surrounded by a crowd of citizens eager to know what had been the outcome of the Constitutional Convention’s long deliberations. Among them was Mrs. Powel of Philadelphia. She approached Dr. Franklin with an anxious question: ‘Well, Doctor, what have we got — a Republic or a Monarchy?” “A Republic” replied the Doctor, “if you can keep it.'”

—  From Meet Dr. Franklin, THE FRANKLIN INSTITUTE (1943)

Judasnoose, 8 July 2008

“People’s power exists only collectively, acting together. … Collective responsibility is one spur to collective action. Otherwise we get what many Germans did under Hitler: enjoy the benefits, then deny responsibility when things end badly.”

If collective action comes down to “write your rep and then vote” I think it’s been nonfunctional in the USA for many years. Jeff Vail and John Robb have offered some thoughts on resilient communities. I suspect the non-voting behaviors of resilient communities will amount to more collective power than all the votes of all US voters — BUT if one could combine resilient community with voting, that would be an awesome force for change.

Also, I like Pete’s comment:”few of us common folk have the ability or the moral authority to topple an unjust government”…
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Fabius Maximus replies: I am astonished that the concept of collective action is so foreign to us that it should need the degree of explanation apparent from your reply. That is very depressing, suggesting that my theory (b) is correct, that we are no longer capable of (or perhaps interested in) carry the burden of self-government.

Perhaps we have evolved into passive, coach-potato, chip-eating serfs. Fortunately we have TV to keep us entertained, and the internet over which to exchange whines.

Judasnoose, 8 July 2008

“the concept of collective action is so foreign to us”

Collective action has a lot of pitfalls in 2008 ( in the US ) that do not IMHO resemble the pitfalls of history.

Example: Organizing a labor union in the USA is more difficult than it was before Taft-Hartley. If a US dissident tries to organize collective action against unemployment, he is in for a bumpy ride.

Example: Criminal records are not only better-circulated than in the past, they also can be used for hiring discrimination. A “disorderly conduct” or “trespassing” charge can prevent a lower-class worker from getting hired, even though it was incurred for the public good.

Other challenges remain that resemble the challenges of the past.

Example: Freemasons have never been entirely accepted by the mainstream — at one point, the US had Anti-Masonic political parties. Currently those who publicly agitate for reform, e.g. Alex Jones, associate Freemasons with plutocrats. So would-be reformers who are also US Freemasons face a classic dilemma in their social “presentation of self.”
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Fabius Maximus replies: I hope you are kidding. Union organizing was highly dangerous in the 19th century, and dangerous up to the 1930’s. What is your standard of “difficult” and “bumpy ride”, relative to subject under discussion — liberty?

 esd29a, 25 July 2008

Is the person who voted against disastrous policies and was overruled by the majority voting for them (or as is more often these days, majority allowing anything by saying nothing and not voting) still responsible for the predictable result? Does he deserve to suffer from the fallout?

And what else could he have done? Stormed Washington and NY and put guns to the heads of Fed/Congress/etc? – anything less would not have stopped it.

The establishment is feeding on the decay and there is no realistic AND legal way for the citizens to replace the entire establishment.
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Fabius Maximus replies: I am not speaking of responsibility before Man or God, but of collective responsibility — we are all on the same boat, which will survive or sink. The basic elements of a citizens’ responsibility in a republic are voting, contributing time and money to candidates’ campaigns (think of the widow’s mite), and lobbying others (like writing posts or comments on the Internet).

If you did all those things to the greatest extent practical for you — but the majority were unmoved — then you have learned a valuable lesson. The universe is unfair, and nature does not care. The Old Testament Prophets discuss this at length. God seldom spares a city because of the five good men in it.

Judasnoose, 14 August 2008

“A growing number of people are not taken in by a pretense of an increasingly illusionary freedom. They have stopped taking an interest in government … Our leaders wish that we vote whatever they believe necessary to maintain the empty charade of a free election, but over time more and more people stay away. History has no more common spectacle than this.”

This is pretty much why I am critical of attempts to mobilize collective action within the existing framework of pseudo-legitimate politics.
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Fabius Maximus replies: I believe that this trait is a symptom of rot, not a policy prescription. Reform efforts repeatedly failed in France’s Ancien Regime, leading to the bloody French Revolution and the dictatorship of Napoleon. Signing on to a program going in that direction by passivity does not seem wise, in my opinion. Nor do I see how this is compatable with any sense of responsibility as a citizen.

However, as de Tocqueville notes, it is good preparation to be a serf.

Other posts in this series about America, how we got here and how we can recover it

  1. Forecast: Death of the American Constitution, 4 July 2006
  2. Diagnosing the Eagle, Chapter III – reclaiming the Constitution, 3 January 2008
  3. A report card for the Republic: are we still capable of self-government?, 3 July 2008
  4. Americans, now a subservient people (listen to the Founders sigh in disappointment), 20 July 2008
  5. de Tocqueville warns us not to become weak and servile, 21 July 2008
  6. A soft despotism for America?, 22 July 2008
  7. The American spirit speaks: “Baa, Baa, Baa”, 5 August 2008
  8. We’re Americans, hear us yell: “baa, baa, baa”, 6 August 2008
  9. Obama describes the first step to America’s renewal, 8 August 2008
  10. Let’s look at America in the mirror, the first step to reform, 14 August 2008

For all posts on this subject see America – how can we reform it?.

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3 thoughts on “Fixing American: taking responsibility is the first step

  1. Has anyone discussed the concept of tacit consent? If citizens do nothing to change the direction of the country they give tacit consent to it’s direction. Saying that votes don’t count is an excuse not to participate. The reality is that votes do count. Just the shear amount of money spent to buy them is proof of it.

    I am running for office in a district that is probably safe for my opponent, but this gives me the chance to try my idea’s out on voters as I walk the district and also to get a feel for the voters. I am finding it very enlightening. They feel so far that the country is heading in the wrong direction but are unwilling to make the time and effort to decide which way to go, so they will vote, as I like to say, “don’t rock the boat”.

    Also in democracy the people have a tendency to vote for people like themselves. If the current class of political elites are an example we have much work to do.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Interesting, as always. What do you mean “vote for people like themseles?” Race, ethnicity, class?

  2. In relation to personel behaviour. The citizens does not want to be held accountable for their behaviour nor our politicians. As soon as someone says “that was wrong” they whip out “don’t judge lest you be judged” without a clue of what it means. The politicians who cater to this mental position currently have the advantage. They show simpathy by attempting to be like them. “I feel your pain” comes to mind. And they vote accordingly. There is break down at the lowest levels of our society which complicates how we can fix these issues. I believe we are at a point in American history where we can, with alot of work, go back to more limited government or end up with some form of soft tyranny. If things get chaotic enough we could end up with a military style government. The military is at this point is the most popular part of government.

    I really do appreciate this forum, Fabius, keep up the good work.

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